The British Grenadiers March November 04 2009, 1 Comment

Contributed by Jack Kopstein


The British Grenadiers is a marching song for the grenadier units of the British military, the tune of which dates from the seventeenth century. It is the Regimental Quick March of the Grenadier Guards, the Honourable Artillery Company, and the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. It is also an authorized march of The Royal Gibraltar Regiment, The Royal Canadian Artillery, The Canadian Grenadier Guards, The Royal Regiment of Canada, The Princess Louise Fusiliers, and The 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles.

A song entitled "The New Bath" found in Playford's dance books from the 1600's is thought to be the origin. However, it is also suggested that it was derived from the Dutch march De Jonge Prins van Friesland (The Young Prince of Friesland, referring to Prince Johan Willem Friso); the first notes of this tune are similar. The march was introduced to Britain during the reign of the Dutch Stadholder, King William III. Today it is played as the Royal Inspection March in the Dutch army, and as a march to the crown prince.

The first known association of the tune with the regiment is in 1706 as The Grenadier's March, and the first version printed with lyrics from around 1750. It was a popular tune throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and remained so until this day. During Operation Market Garden, a few men of the British 1st Airborne Division are said to have played this song using a flute and a few helmets and sticks as drums. In the UK, it is played at Trooping the Colour. Additionally, the first eight measures are played during the ceremony when the Escort for the Colour marches into position on Horse Guards Parade.

The following text is the most well-known version of the song. The text arguably dates back to the War of Spanish Succession (1702-1713), since it refers to the grenadiers throwing grenades (a practice that proved to be too dangerous and was dropped soon after,) and the men wearing "caps and pouches" (i.e. the typical grenadier caps, worn by these elite troops, and probably the small cartridge boxes worn in front, known as a 'belly box') and "louped clothes", then preserved only for the grenadiers.

Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules Of Hector and Lysander, and such great names as these. But of all the world's great heroes, there's none that can compare. With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, to the British Grenadiers. Those heroes of antiquity ne'er saw a cannon ball, Or knew the force of powder to slay their foes withal. But our brave boys do know it, and banish all their fears, Sing tow, row, row, row, row, row, for the British Grenadiers. Whene'er we are commanded to storm the palisades, Our leaders march with fusees, and we with hand grenades. We throw them from the glacis, about the enemies' ears. Sing tow, row, row, row, row, row, the British Grenadiers. And when the siege is over, we to the town repair. The townsmen cry, "Hurrah, boys, here comes a Grenadier! Here come the Grenadiers, my boys, who know no doubts or fears! Then sing tow, row, row, row, row, row, the British Grenadiers. Then let us fill a bumper, and drink a health to those Who carry caps and pouches, and wear the loupèd clothes. May they and their commanders live happy all their years. With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, for the British Grenadiers.

There are a number of words in the song which are not in current usage:    

Fusees - The Grenadier officers carried fusees - fusils, or muskets rather than bombs.    

Glacis - A term in the science of fortification, referring to the smooth sloping embankment that usually preceded the pit in front of the walls of a fort. Designed to deflect cannonballs, but also a dangerously exposed place to stand throwing grenades.    

Bumper - A bumper was any container that could be used to clink with another reveller's bumper in a toast to someone's health. It could be filled with beer or some other alcoholic drink. It usually referred to a handled vessel such as a (pewter or ceramic) beer-mug or (leathern) jack, but it could refer to a (horn or pewter) beaker or even to a (treen, pewter or silver) punchbowl that could be picked up and passed around for everyone to quaff.  

Louped clothes - (pronounced "loup-ed" in order for it to scan) It means 'looped', and refers to the lace (those 'bastion loops') worn as an elite distinction by the grenadiers during the War of Austrian Succession. Other sources suggest that it refers only to the laced shoulder 'wings' worn by Grenadiers.    

toe row row - Refers to forming up in rows in a straight line, i.e. with toes on the line.    

The song is also the regimental song to the Fort Henry Guard, a generic military regiment representing a British regiment of 1867 in British North America. The guard are part of the living museum at Fort Henry,  in Kingston Ontario. The march is played on fifes and as such some of the sequential notes are omitted because of the limitation of the instrument.


-Jack Kopstein